Horrific footage of live possums, piglets and rabbits being dragged around race tracks to illegally bait greyhounds has provoked outrage in Australia.
The animals were shown being chased and mauled by the dogs, surviving for up to an hour before being ripped apart.
One possum was flung around a track 26 times in torture lasting 56 minutes. When the mechanism finally stopped, the animal was still alive but had been snapped in half, attached only by its spinal cord.
Trainers were caught on hidden cameras laughing as a man joked: “It wouldn't have much go in it mate, its guts are ripped out.”
The footage, filmed by animal rights activists in Queensland and Victoria and broadcast on a special ABC Four Corners programme, has sparked the suspension of 22 people in the greyhound industry after raids by the RSPCA and police.
If found guilty of illegal live baiting, they face being banned from greyhound racing, up to five years in prison and a $30,000 (£15,000) fone. An artificial mechanical “lure” is used in public races but some trainers use the outlawed training method in secret in the belief that it improves their dogs’ performance.
“The screaming of terrified piglets and rabbits as they were flung around the track is spine-chilling, but equally so, was seeing trainers completely unmoved by the suffering of these animals,” said Hayley Cotton, from Animal Liberation Queensland.
“Those involved don't even put suffering animals out of their agony, they just use them again and again while they remain alive.”
Scott Parker, the chief executive of industry group Greyhounds Australasia said the “use of live animals to train greyhounds is disgusting, illegal, unethical and totally rejected by the industry”, adding that the 30,000 people legally involved in racing have been tarnished by the scandal.
The local industry regulatory body, Greyhound Racing Victoria, said it was “disgusted” by the footage and has launched an investigation.
Chairman Peter Caillard said: “The use of live bait in the training of greyhounds is abhorrent and has no place in our sport.
“Any person engaged in live baiting can expect to be disqualified and prosecuted. We have zero tolerance for these individuals.”
He refuted claims that live baiting was widespread in Victoria state, saying that to the body’s knowledge it was confined to the privately-owned facility where activists filmed.
The body is being given millions of dollars in extra funding to investigate and prevent cruelty and has vowed to ban the use of dead animals in training.
Victoria’s government has also launched an investigation into animal in the greyhound racing industry and is funding extra inspectors and surveillance.
Darren Condon, the chief executive of Racing Queensland, said immediate action would be taken against the individuals implicated by the footage.